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Elastic Bands and Duty

So Robert Gates writes a memoir and does damage to the Obama Administration.  That is, the second most militarily powerful civilian in Western Civilization, behind only the President of the United States, writes a memoir and hurts the President’s legacy.  Much has been said as to why he wasn’t doing this while actually on the staff.  Instead, Gates was “the Silent Anger” or some other such hyperbolic nonsense, as it’s been called.

That’s all well and good, to be ideologically righteous, once out the door.  They call those “moral victories”.

Allow me to remind you: “moral victories” are for losers to hold on to, as though they didn’t sacrifice in vain.  Victory is self-sustaining; moral victories come with much angst, intellectual excuses, and gnashing of teeth.

Thus, exhibit A: “Duty”, by Robert Gates.

The fact of the matter is that Robert Gates did not perform his duty in the role of Secretary of Defense.  He admits such at great length, as espoused by the mere context and comment from excerpts now available.  To read how frustrated he was, both with Congress, and his own President (whom Gates believes did not believe in strategies of his own devising), it is clear that he did not do said duty; duty, and his honor, demanded action- not sitting in the corner like an angry wallflower.

Wallflowers tend to not like their surroundings on fundamental levels, rather than circumstantial.  It shows in their lack of willingness to engage.  The human response to discomfort is to step aside, rather than enter into the exchange, whereas people whom want to be in a role, no matter how low or lofty, are front and center; they are confident that they not only bring the correct skills to the table, but that they can elucidate them in a fashion befitting their value.

Nothing more succinctly illustrates this than his description of the end of his workday- desperate to leave the office, the last official acts he would perform would be the signing of letters of condolences before running out the door.

This is fundamentally wrong for the role of Secretary of Defense; it sets a tone in which the most expensive cost of our security is held as a burden from being free from the daily chores.  The premise actually disgusts me, as it is the actions of an individual who considers his role as the second most actionably powerful man on the planet, as a mere “job”.

Leaders do not quantify their roles as “jobs”, and do not take part in them as such.  The Secretary positions of the President’s cabinet are leadership positions, not “jobs”.  Vast bureaucratic machines that can be implemented wrongly need guidance and stewardship, not pedants who are merely working for their next job.

The role of the civilian leader of the Department of Defense is to consciously set a tone of advocacy for the troops that surround him, that actualize on the policy his Commander in Chief sets.  If that policy is unsound, it is his responsibility to sound off.  If the mission is flawed, it is his the hallmark of his honor to present such before attempting its execution.  If the aforementioned CinC is uncomfortable with his own planning, duty demands he be called out for it in the moment; that options be provided- real options, and not attempts at mere face-saving.  And if self-serving Congressmen wish to play politic with foreign policy and budgetary concerns, then, tough shit- they’re getting an earful in response.

You do not want a person such me as your Secretary of Defense, for I am quick to anger and do not hold back when the opportunity for payback is at hand.  I believe in the real ability of conflict to bring about change, but also believe that conflict must always be tempered with the right, and truly overwhelming, amount of force.  My leadership would be the same; no petty sycophant of any President would set the tone for the policy execution meted out by the men and women of whom I am responsible.  Would they want to play ball, they would be expected- demanded, in fact, to present true mission goals and allow for the required force needs to bring it to resolution.  Anything less would be a lesson in why they call it the Five-Sided Wind Tunnel.

The State Department would be my mortal foil, for their abject stupidity in most any and every encumbrance on this nation’s moral responsibilities grow into the unmitigated disasters that my men and women are required to solve.  Just because the Secretary of State is willing and able to offer arms export to anyone he so chooses, does not require my signing off on the technological transfer.

F-16s to Pakistan?  When Hell freezes over and starts handing over the rest of the al Qaeda trash being secreted from one end of that failed state to the other, and their own men stop shooting at mine.

And lastly- those condolence letters; they would be the start of my day, rather than its close.  I would find an unjaded first-cycle officer or two, new to the Pentagon; and perhaps a Flag of whom I am displeased or questioning of his commitment to aid him in the task.

Every morning, as I would sign those letters, I would read the names aloud.  And that Lieutenant Commander, Captain, or Colonel, and that General or Admiral, they would write those names on three elastic bands; one for each of us.  When the letters were signed, and the bands made up, they would be worn next to our watches.

So that in any moment of the day, whether being pontificated to by Congress, reprimanded by the President, or fed bullshit by a bean-counter, should one of us look to see how much longer we have to put up with, we will look on why we are there.

And the day that seeing those elastics doesn’t get my heart up to fight the righteous battle- to not be heard, and to not lead, but to instead cower, is the day I resign.